HOUSTON - Are electric companies doing enough to protect your personal information? Earlier this week, Local 2 Investigates exposed a Houston-area electric company employee accused of stealing customer information.
Local 2 Investigates is now learning new details about that woman's criminal history and asking why she was hired at four different electric companies when she was convicted of identity theft in the past.
CenterPoint hired Keshia Cherry in January 2013 to work in the company's customer service call center. Prior to that, Cherry had worked for StarTex Power, Gexa Energy and Mega Energy.
Houston police arrested Cherry this week for allegedly stealing at least one social security number from a Mega Energy customer when she worked there.
Cherry was sentenced to 60-months probation in 2001 for forgery and fraudulent use of a credit card, according to court documents from Arkansas. In 2002, she served seven months in a Texas jail for possession of crack cocaine.
"Someone needs to step up and be accountable," said Andrea Cherry, the woman whose credit was ruined when police say Keshia stole her identity. "HR departments need to take a closer look at who they're hiring in for their customer service representatives."
All four of her former employers told Local 2 they did background checks. CenterPoint explained state laws "place limits on the look-back period of an applicant's criminal background report and on the extent to which an employer may use the applicant's criminal record as a basis for a hiring decision."
That is partially true. According to the Texas Business & Commerce Code (Section 20.05), if the employer uses a third-party company to conduct the check, that company cannot report any information about a conviction more than seven years old. There is no state law that prevents the employers from doing the background checks themselves or using the information they find to decide whether to hire someone based on prior convictions, no matter how old those convictions are.
None of Cherry's former employers would talk with Local 2 Investigates on-camera. They emailed the following statements:
CenterPoint Energy response:
"As for the process that led to Ms. Cherry's hiring, CenterPoint Energy used, as it does with all new hires, a thorough employment application and background screening process that is industry-standard and regulated by various federal and state laws. These laws and their implementation, which can vary by state, place limits on the look-back period of an applicant's criminal background report (generally 7 years) and on the extent to which an employer may use the applicant's criminal record as a basis for a hiring decision.
In our internal investigation into this matter over the last several days, CenterPoint Energy has determined that Ms. Cherry falsified her employment application. She did not disclose the Arkansas credit card fraud charges as required by our application, and she did not give any indication that she had previously worked or lived in Arkansas. This falsification, in combination with the age of the criminal charges in question (over 10 years old), allowed Ms. Cherry to pass the background check. Had Ms. Cherry been truthful on her employment application, or had the charges against her been more recent, she would not have passed the background screen. In any event, and most importantly, Ms. Cherry is no longer employed with CenterPoint Energy and there is no evidence that she ever compromised or misappropriated any customer information in her brief time here."
StarTex Power response:
"Per company policy, Constellation does not comment on former personnel or ongoing police investigations.
Consistent with federal and state laws and regulations, Constellation, which acquired StarTex in 2011, does require all job applicants to undergo drug screening and a criminal background check as a condition of employment. All current StarTex employees and contractors successfully completed a criminal background check and drug screening."
"Gexa Energy utilizes an extremely thorough and extensive background check, performed by a highly qualified third party with substantial expertise, in our hiring process. Protecting our customers' information is a top priority, and our commitment to our customers is unwavering."
TXU Energy took over MegaEnergy in January 2013. It did not retain any Mega emplyees or personnel files; and therefore had no relevant response to Keshia Cherry's employment with MegaEnergy."
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